balance · community · day in the life · kid stuff · saving my sanity · you're awesome

Making Lemonade

Today, I’m offering up a framed narrative. I wrote the following nested post on Sunday, but then Liz offered a bunch of solutions to my exhaustion questions on Tuesday. So, while my exhaustion has not evaporated, I’ve decided to make the proverbial lemonade, and look forward to brighter things in the New Year. Rest assured, I’m not quite ready to do the counting of the blessings, yet. After all, it’s still November. So, here’s Sunday-me, all tired-but-hopeful:


It seems I’m on an inspiration kick. Or a whining kick. Whichever it is, I’m trying to turn it into something better. You might also argue I’m crowdsourcing my counselling. However, I bet I’m not alone in feeling exhausted right about now, on the brink of December. So, I’m writing this post to ask you all: how do you deal? cope? manage? right about now.

Here’s my situation: it’s Sunday as I’m writing these lines, and before you admire my organizational skills, wait until you read the whole thing. My oldest has now been sick with the flu (the real one, the influenza one) for almost a week [update: she’s better, but we still had to pick her up early on Wednesday, as she was running a fever], while also scheduled to take a trip over the pond tomorrow. I hope, by the time you read this post, she will be long past it [update: the cough is still here]. Otherwise I feel like I will snap something. Speaking of snapping: my youngest woke up early. Well, nothing is *too* early for a baby, but right now, at 53 degrees latitude north, when the sun rises around 9 am (I’m exaggerating; tired mothers are allowed their lion’s share of hyperbole), 6:45 am seems unpardonably early. Strike that, it’s always too early to be woken up at that time. 
However, to add literal injury to insult, after I’d taken the baby into my own bed, hoping to steal maybe another 5 seconds of shut-eye, he gleefully–everything is either ginormously gleeful or deathly dramatic at 13 months–proceeded to get up, pick up my water bottle, and drop it–nay, throw it–squarely in my right eye. The visible result? I now sport a red spot on the white of my right eye. Yeah, I didn’t need that one anyway. Symmetry is always better, and my left eye is much more myopic than my right. Babies always know more than we give them credit for, no?
The cherry on the cake of exhaustion–see, even my metaphors get mixed this late in the term–I am about to receive (remember, it’s still Sunday here) eighty (if I spell the numeral instead of writing numbers, it will seem much smaller, yes?) research essays tomorrow. E-i-g-h-t-y (nope, still small, still in denial). 
So, between the packing and the marking and the lesson prepping–and did I mention the few remaining job/postoc apps–and the usual demands of life, my upcoming week–happily now in my past–is looking quite quite busy. 
Which brings me to my last point (and, alas, a sentence fragment–you can see I’m gearing up for marking here!): how do *you* cope with the end-of-term avalanche of marking and deadlines and final exams and final papers and the anticipation of all. that. work waiting for you in the new year. I will spare you my list for 2013, but I would really love to hear, before we do the pinnable year-end tally of “awesome things that happened in 2012,” how you deal with the actual year-end itself. Because me? This here is how I’m dealing. Crowdsourcing my therapy. Please don’t send me a bill, though, k?


Now back to my usual Friday-due-post self: you know, I did say I’d snap something, but I didn’t. The cherry on the cake: now my partner is sick. And the baby, the water-bottle-bull’s-eye-throwing baby? I had to pick him up early from daycare yesterday, because they were suspecting pinkeye. Pink-effing-eye! And yet, I’m still here. Unsnapped. What’s holding me together? In the words of the wonderful M M-D (our resident English and Film Studies miracle worker), the end-of-term is within tasting distance! Yes, I still have to mark the papers; yes, I still have to write the final exams; yes, I still have to mark those.

However, in-between, I get to dream about how next term will be so much more exciting. I’m teaching a 200-level course for the first time! I’ve chosen some awesome novels I’m very excited about, and I get to legitimately discuss theory! THEORY! Legitimately! (excuse me for shouting, but I’m just THAT excited). I do, in fact, teach quite a bit of theory in my introductory courses, but it’s always instrumental. And that’s fine. I utilize theory in my research all the time. But this course will allow me to actually discuss theory in itself. Now that’s something to look forward to. (and, by the way, while I’m aware it’s not all fun and games teaching a new course, my realistic side is all taken up with kiddie sickness at the moment, so I’ll just deal with the problematic issues this course will pose as they arise, rather than imagining them)

Finally, and probably most excitingly for me, I will revise, rethink, and reconceptualize my manuscript. I did it once, but I was too enamoured with it, and I didn’t do enough. Now I’ve got some really substantive feedback, which helped me truly see the lacunas, and I’m ready to tackle it again. I’ve also got a very receptive editor who’s willing not only re-read it at the end, but support me in the process. It’s looking good, and it is thrilling.

And that’s my lemonade! Want some?

academy · saving my sanity · sexist fail

Blogging dilemmas

I’m emotionally exhausted out of frustration from a work issue that is very much about equity, professionalism, process, and fairness. But I can’t write about it! Even though it foregrounds issues that are pretty high on the agenda around these parts, there is no way that I could possibly discuss the details (at least online) without getting in deep s#@!

This particular episode follows upon at least two other instances this past semester of egregious sexism that I can’t blog about because of confidentiality. I am okay with that, on one level. Confidentiality exists for a reason: there are many instances in academia when people have to be comfortable to express difficult opinions on sensitive and important matters. Moreover, having agreed to confidentiality, I consider it unethical to then break that agreement. So my lips are sealed. 

But I’m also not okay with that because that sexism nevertheless hangs in the air, at least in my atmosphere, shaping and colouring my work life. And I know that people take advantage of the protection of a confidential setting to express things that they could not get away with otherwise. So I find it problematic that I’m bound by confidentiality, when that works to perpetuate a sexist, chauvinist work culture. 

With regards to my current situation (which actually reaches back 2 years), there is nothing confidential about it. But to discuss it would only stand to hurt me professionally more than I stand to gain by sharing with you folks. And that is incredibly disheartening because, when combined with the aforementioned sexism, it makes me wonder where can change come from? The hierarchies in my institution make it clear that I have no means to address the issue head on. I could raise a grievance with my faculty association, but that is putting myself out there again in a way that will likely do more harm to me then it will actually realize substantive change. If I put my head down and protect my self-interest, then of course nothing will change. 
I grew up thinking that you always fought back. Every time you saw something that was wrong, you called it out, and you kept calling it out until you got a response. But in our culture broadly, and narrowly within academia, sexism and inequity can be so pervasive that I have to “pick my battles.” So my question to you folks, given that I can’t ask for specific assistance on the matter in question, when you pick your battles, what criteria do you use to decide?
emotional labour

Social Work: Emotional Labour and the Core Mission

Yesterday, I wrote another peer review, this time a gentle and encouraging rejection of an article submitted to a journal. That particular shit sandwich wound up being over 1300 words long–like the Dagwood sandwich of carefully worded peer reviews. It took me all morning to write, because I really wanted to encourage the writer at the same time as make clear just how flawed this particular instantiation of the ideas was.

I’ve also been to two meals with job candidates and other assorted part-social part-intellectual events. I’m finalizing the details for the department holiday party I’m hosting at my house. I’m giving graduate students pep talks about time management and the writing process and how it’s okay to cry sometimes. I’m helping members of my broader network process scathing reviews of cherished work. I’m trying to be a constructive but forceful participant in some discussions about massive structural change in our university teaching and curricula.

It strikes me that a lot of the way that I get my core mission–my research, teaching, and service–done is through deliberate and sustained “social work.” That is, emotional labour greases the track across which everything I do is supposed to slide.

Weird that even in the touchy-feely humanities it needs to be said, but those “soft skills” we always try to indicate we help students master–verbal and written communication, social savvy from historical awareness, self-reflexivity, creative thinking–constitute a kind of emotional labour. And that even in humanities disciplines we tend to undervalue this emotional labour, which we might reframe thus:
plays well with others, can keep a civil tongue in her head, has Kleenexes and pats on the back and kind words for burnt-out students, crafts interactions to be effective without being aggressive.

Sometimes I’m really good at this kind of work and sometimes I’m really not. When I do it right, the results are invariably better than when I let my harsher nature loose and slash and burn my way through the day with Sword of Righteousness aloft. I mean, sometimes, somebody just blows it, and I want to tell them off. Or they don’t know what they’re talking about, and they should, and my instinct is sarcasm. Or someone misses another deadline and I want to drop the hammer down hard. I find that just letting rip in these situations hardly ever achieves the desired outcome. But if I focus my reactions instead on constructing some kind of interaction that is designed to make it more likely that my ultimate goal is going to be met, I get better results from those I work with, students and colleagues and administrators alike.

This is hard. It involves teeth gritting, followed by deep breathing and a short meditation on kindness. It involves a careful consideration of the future beyond the next five minutes. Sometimes it involves sitting on my hands to not launch a tirade at a meeting, or a further 20 minutes on a peer review editing out the sourness, or a phone call to consult a senior colleague on how to deal with a thorny situation.

If you do it really well, this emotional labour is invisible to most of those around you: you seem naturally nice or kind or thoughtful or easy to work with. You make life with the hotheads more bearable, or your students all seem to graduate faster, or the committees you sit on seem to laugh a lot. The work might get ascribed to personality, or some kind of intrinsic nature, and become invisible as labour to others. Does that matter?

Like so many other things that women often excel at when compared to men, it seems like emotional labour is a kind of skill we resist considering as real work. I don’t want to get a merit score on personality. But I would like to see more open recognition of the fact that when some people are perhaps easier to work with than others, it’s probably not as easy as it looks. It might be deliberate. It ought to be celebrated.

What kinds of emotional labour do you exert in your day to day work? And is it recognized? Should it be?

advice · balance · saving my sanity · slow academy · weekend

Fighting Burnout

Like most early career academic researchers, I’m busy. My official job duties are teaching a lot of courses and chairing a program. But, then there’s all the extra academic stuff that gets piled on top: applying for tenure-track positions; applying for research funding; writing reference letters; going to meetings; attending conferences; trying to think about writing something, as well as the non-academic life stuff on top of that: eating; making sure the laundry gets done; keeping up with friends; having a long-distance relationship; exercise (?); doing the dishes every once in awhile…
It’s a bit much. It’s too much, in fact. Even if I was a feminist superhero (and I couldn’t tell you if I was because it would jeopardize my secret identity), it would be too much.
There are particular times of year—and this is one of those times of year—that it’s pretty easy to start feeling burnt out. You might be reading an article and find that your eyes are glazing over; seeing a pile of essays might induce nausea; or you might just feel completely saturated. Here’s a few ideas for fighting burnout.
1. Clean Breaks
Are you one of those people who insists on bringing a laptop or pile of grading to a cottage? If you’re already feeling burnt out, take a clean and guilt-free break. It doesn’t even need to be a long break, but a break that involves you lugging four books around town while you “go out for a walk” is not a clean break. When you’re done working, stop working. For real.
2. Reading Detox

Try this experiment: do not read anything. No email; no lists of things to do; no articles or books, even for pleasure, for 24 hours. It feels impossible. It is not. Let your brain recover for awhile! Try occupying yourself in other ways: knitting; exercise (?); doing that pile of laundry; or anything else that strikes your fancy.
3. Have a Life Outside of Academia

One of the best things that happened for my academic career is that I made friends with people who aren’t academics. In my case, it was through playing music. Being friends with people whose lives don’t revolve around the university puts a lot of what we do in perspective, and this can help academic work feel much less overwhelming.
4. Acknowledge that You Won’t Do Everything Perfectly

This can be hard to do. As an academic, and maybe just as a human, I want to do my best all the time. Acknowledge that you are doing your best under the circumstances and try to avoid long sessions of beating yourself up for what you may perceive as “falling short.”
Finally, perhaps most importantly, sleep! Goodnight!

faster feminism · public humiliation · slow academy · women

Who Fills the Chairs

Consciously or not, I’m always aware of how many women there are in the room at academic gatherings. As an undergraduate in English, it was rare to have more than a couple of men in the classroom, excluding the professor–who was, more often than not, male. As a teacher of undergraduates in English, the same went. Beyond the graduate classroom (which had a slightly more equal male-female ratio, although women still dominated) I was struck by what I saw. At department meetings, there are more male professors than female. Conferences I’ve attended, depending on the subject, have often been male dominated, and like the one I presented at earlier this fall, can be profoundly uncomfortable spaces to be in as a woman. Department support staff at my university are almost all female. Department chairs, since I’ve been here, have almost always been male, and upper administration and governance is certainly male dominated. It’s not anything new to note that there is a major disconnect in my field between the gender of the students who enter it as undergraduates, of those who dominate the PhD graduating classes and the gender of those in the positions of highest power. This isn’t just the field. This is the world.
I had a few experiences this week that seemed to suggest that things are changing. In a meeting of the key players behind a new graduate student professional development program in our Faculty of Graduate Studies, I looked around the table to note that most of those people, including the Dean, were women. I’m helping to coordinate a writing workshop for dissertation scholarship winners, and all but two are women, as are most of their supervisors. I’m also the graduate representative on our tenure and promotions committee, and we met earlier this week. The committee is headed up by our new graduate program director, who is, after men heading up the department for the last decade or longer, a woman. Around the conference table, nearly everyone seated was also female. At one point someone asked the committee if we could estimate how much longer we might take, as she wanted to let her stay-at-home husband know when she would be home to breastfeed their baby daughter. At the end of the meeting, the professor with the baby daughter and I exchanged mutual admiration for the bag I was carrying and the granola-covered nuts her husband had made for her (for which you can find the recipe here). It felt, during that meeting, like the proportion of women in the room had changed something, like it was okay to be academics and people too. That baking and breastfeeding and being good academics and holding positions of power weren’t mutually exclusive—the acknowledgement of which is key, I think, to addressing the power imbalance in the academy and the wider world.
It would have been nice if there wasn’t another side to this story, but of course there is. The two people up for tenure and promotion were both men, as are most of the people who have been given tenure or have been promoted since my arrival in the department. The nursing professor was apologetic, and jokingly defensive, about her need to get back to her baby. After bonding over our shared love of Smitten Kitchen, she remarked that she clearly wasn’t working hard enough if she had time to go hunting down recipes for granola-covered nuts. At a workshop on academic job interviews later that afternoon, we were warned against interviewers who would try to find out if we were planning on having children soon. And at that uncomfortable conference last month, a presenter made a joke about my sending him love notes as I sat and waited to deliver my own paper, a joke that I had to laugh off but which made more women than me in the room cringe. Earlier that day, another male panelist told me, in not so many words, that as a young(ish) woman, I was not allowed (although I was moderating the panel) to ask him to wrap up when his paper went over time, which he assured me it would.  
One of the things I love best about Hook & Eye is that women fill the chairs. We sit around this virtual table and discuss whatever matters to us as female academics. Sometimes that’s writing a better conference proposal. Sometimes it’s how we get treated differently when we leave the house without makeup on. Sometimes it’s a great recipe that makes rushing out the door to get to class feel a little bit easier, or one that can keep a breastfeeding woman going through a long day on campus. We feel comfortable talking as people, and not just as academics, at least in part because we fill the chairs. And if we filled the chairs in more rooms, as we fill the chairs in more rooms–in the Dean’s office, in the office of the department chair, in the university senate, in the President’s office, at the presenter’s table–the culture of the university might continue to shift. It might start to acknowledge that parenting and positions of power aren’t incompatible. That teaching and taking time to nurse a child, or to care for an aging parent, or to spend time on a hobby, are equally important facets of a complex academic life. That being professors and being people, no matter our gender, should be accepted and celebrated and taken into account when making decisions about who is given positions of power. When we fill more of the chairs, I can’t help but feel that the feeling in the room changes for the better, for us and for the men around us. And so do our experiences of being women, being people, in academe.  

So I’ll keep watching to see who fills the chairs. And I’ll keep filling one myself, as often as I can, while I do. What about you? What’s your sense of the gender balances and imbalances at your university, or in your field, and whether or not they’re shifting? 
best laid plans · health · heavy-handed metaphors · kid stuff

What’s the best time to have kids?

The topic for this week’s #ECRchat, which stands for early-career researcher chat on Twitter, was “Deciding when to have a family.” As I sit in my office during office hours (on the most recent Wednesday in your past), while my oldest is at home with yet another cold and hacking cough, I cannot help but wonder if there is ever a good time. Apart from the knee-jerk reaction, however, and because I cannot participate in the live-tweet chat due to time-zone conflicts (with my sleep!), I wanted both to think through this question here, and to ask you, lovely Hook & Eye community, to do the same.

To reply to this very thoughtful question with yet another one along the lines of “Is there ever a good time?” seems a cop-out, especially in the case of academics, who like to plan their future, but have little control over it. Even though one can make the case that nobody can actually control their future, this inability pervades the lives of early-career academics more than others’. The better part of PhD students know they commit to their chosen grad school for a good chunk of time, but when the PhD is over, unless one is a superstar with her choice of employment, most PhD graduates have little choice and limited possibilities of decision about their immediate next steps.

So, if one in that situation wants a family, what does one do? I don’t think there can ever be a blanket answer to this question. However, hearing other academics’ experiences might help one take a more appropriate decision. [Maybe I should stop hiding behind the neutral form of the personal pronoun and say “she,” especially since even The Globe and Mail recognized yesterday appropriate childcare to be a major obstacle in women academics’ career path. They say nothing of systemic sexism, of course.] Personally, I took the advice of one of my profs from my MA, a very generous woman in her openness to mentor (female) graduate students (Hi, HL!). She said to the women-only class of graduate students: “If you want to have kids, have them in grad school. Don’t wait to finish, because then something else comes up, and you end up delaying too much.” I’m very grateful for this advice, because it worked for me.

I did have my oldest during graduate school. As it happened, it was the perfect timing for me: five months after my candidacy, which made the pressure of the imminent arrival productive for my dissertation work. Well, that and my wonderful supervisor, who knew exactly how to guide me, what to suggest I do, so I “will be able to come back to something written, and be less daunted” by the amount of time that had elapsed between the last graduate milestone and the end of mat leave.

As it turned out, having a kid in graduate school worked wonders on my time management skills. All of a sudden, the time she was in daycare–which was so hard to find, it nearly caused me a breakdown–became immensely precious. I had to work, research, write. Because when I took her home, it was kid-time. As a rule, I don’t work after I’ve picked up my kids (now I have two, as you might know) from daycare. It’s kiddie time. After the kids go to bed? It’s relationship time. I made the decision of treating my PhD as a 9-5 job when I started it. Is that always possible? NO! But the important thing is to have the rule, and to treat the exceptions as exceptions, without allowing them to become generalized into the new normal.

Time for a privilege disclaimer: I would tell you about my wonderfully supportive (emotionally and financially) partner, but he’s opposed to being talked about online, so I’m not. But I do realize my privilege, and it stays with me (it’s because of his taking care of my sick kid at home today that I can even be at work and write about this stuff). It’s why I’m reluctant to give advice. Babies and kids take an exceptional amount of emotional and financial energy. Much more than a person who’s never been around them can imagine. Much more than I could have imagined. Much more than I still think possible, because parenting relies on amnesia. How else would be reproduce? Multiple times even? Of course there are immense and proportional rewards. There are studies that show parents of one or two kids are happier than childless couples. There are other studies that argue the reverse.

Take your pick, but think about it hard. Borrow a child (babysit, you’ll score many karma points, and the eternal gratitude of those parents), try to model (not just imagine) your life around a baby/kid for a week. AND for the love of all things baby-related, please stop using the birthing and labour metaphor for dissertation writing.

I would love to hear from both sides of the camp: anxieties, fears, desires, words of wisdom, 20-20 hindsight? Whatever you got:

academy · balance

I’m reading a novel

I’m finally there. I’ve made it. I have now been finished my PhD long enough to return to reading for fun. I don’t have any more classes to teach this semester, and all of my grading is finished, except for the final exam which is still a couple of weeks away.
So today, I have finally picked up a novel for the first time since that last Harry Potter book came out. It’s been awhile.
While it is true that I have a number of articles just waiting to be finished and sent out for review, and while it is true that I have job applications waiting in the wings, today I will read a novel.
It is not entirely outside of my research interests of course. I’m not there yet. I’ve picked up Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. It deals with humour, taboo, and carnivalesque images and practices, all of which relate very closely to my own research.
But the point is, I’m reading something for fun, actually finding it fun, and not taking notes and anxiously skipping what I hope are superfluous sections that I simply do not have time to read.
Does anyone else remember their first post-PhD novel? When did reading become fun again?

emotional labour · ideas for change · peer review · you're awesome

Doing Peer Review Better

Last week I wrote about how to improve a conference paper proposal, to make it more likely to impress the peer reviewer assigned to assess it. This week, I’m thinking about how those of us who do peer reviews might do our part of the job better.

I’ve drawn all my inspiration for this post from the program committee of DH2013, the umbrella conference of the Allied Digital Humanities Organizations, which comprises the Canadian Digital Humanities Association, the Association for Computers in the Humanities, the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing, and others. The conference is global and it is interdisciplinary. It is also highly selective, sometimes prone to controversy about who is in and who is out (and what is DH and what is not). For example, and in retrospect hilariously, even though I regularly review proposals for the conference, all three submissions I have myself made have been rejected. The first time, one peer review gave a one sentence assessment of my work (I paraphrase): “This work is not even interesting and I don’t know why this author would propose to consider it for this group.” That was in 2001 or 2002, and I still remember it as the most dismissive, disrespectful review I have ever received for a conference paper.

So imagine my pleasure this year when I visited the conference website to review the CFP as I prepared to assess my five assigned proposals. This year, the organization has put together not only a guide to writing proposals for its authors, but also, magnificently, a guide to peer reviewing this proposals for its assessors.

Go see it. Then come back.

Aren’t these just the very model of transparency? All the implicit rules by which proposals will be assessed are explicitly outlined. Even better, peer reviewers are reminded that their work is not simply to assess in summative fashion (accept / do not accept) but to mentor in formative fashion (How might this be improved? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this proposal?). Even better, peer reviewers are reminded of … well … the affective dimension of this part of academic work. Nasty peer reviews work to exclude people from the field. Harsh rejections are bad for morale generally. Community is built upon mutual kindness. The “big tent” model is not supported by vicious kicks to the support poles at the edges of the structure. This bit, to me, is the most incredible, and the most awesome: instead of training would-be participants to develop a thick skin and “try harder” when faced with what looks sometimes like gleeful rejection, peer reviewers instead are being asked to consider what might help the not-accepted scholarship fit within the fold next time. It manifests a kind of humility about the field and our expertise as gatekeepers within it, even as we are still very much called upon to review the intellectual merits of each proposal.

I imagine the acceptance rate will still be low. But maybe we all won’t feel so rejected by that.

I loved this so much I sent a mash note to Bethany Nowviskie about it.

The lessons of DH2013 and the wisdom of its program committee extend to all our peer review work. I know it’s given me pause. I get asked to do peer review all the time. And some of the papers I read are, not to mince words, terrible. And sometimes it feels like I’m wasting my time to read all 30 pages. I’m mad at the editors for even forwarding this to two hapless reviewers. I write incredibly sarcastic notes in my printouts, to blow off steam.

But I try, and will try harder, to make my reviews, even the ones about papers that purport to be about user-generated review sites but are actually thinly-veiled screeds about how evolution is just a theory and Richard Dawkins is going to hell (really), constructive. To keep them focused on the intellectual. To not descend into recriminations against the author’s not knowing what the journal is for, or not caring to take the time to copy-edit let alone proofread, or for stuffing an unreconstructed coursework paper into a digital envelope in total cluelessness about how that is not what an article is. That’s all judgy and personal. Try to be constructive.

I’m using the classic “shit sandwich” approach now. You are probably familiar with it.

Here’s how it works. Start by saying something nice (and true): maybe the topic is important. Maybe the approach is worthy. Maybe the primary texts have never really been considered before. Maybe the author has a great knack for fluid and engaging prose. Maybe the reference list is superb. Acknowledge the merits that you find. Next is the “however”: this varies from paper to paper, but might be courseworkitis (all lit review, no argument), or it might be something more complex and unique about the approach to the topic or the methodology or the sample set or whatever. Be specific but try to confine the criticism to the words on the page, not the character of the author. This can be sometimes very difficult to do. Do say: “The paper takes what it describes as “genre analysis” as its theme, but does not reference the major works in that field.” Do not say: “The author has no right to perform as so-called ‘genre-analysis’ when it is obvious that s/he hasn’t read anything at all in this well-developed field.” Finally, end with some suggestions for improvement. This is hopeful. Having perhaps said that it’s unworkable to try to prove point A with reference to text F and L, maybe suggest a set of texts that might be more useful. Or if the author seems unfamiliar with an important subfield he or she generalizes about, suggest one or two texts and one or two major ideas from that subfield the author might consult to better support his or her contentions.

If you feel this all doesn’t convey enough the depth of your rejection, then by all means make use of the field that is labelled “for the editors only”–you can let rip in that section, if you really need to.

Putting stuff out to review is very hard: this is part of the reason we all hold onto our drafts for too long. We are afraid of what the reviewers will say. And yet, as reviewers, we very often lash out at the poor shmucks who’ve let their precious drafts out into the world. Yeah, maybe they’re totally not ready for the big time, but we don’t have to be mean about it.

Do you have any tips and tricks for doing or receiving peer review? Funny stories? Terrible tales?

feminism · public humiliation

On Surviving Public Humiliation

Recently I went to a guest lecture by an Internal Medicine Doctor that promised to examine the latest treatments, remedies and aids for cancer.

I situated myself on the inside of the second or third row and expected a long evening of power points but instead I got a personal dose of public humiliation.

The doctor took the stage and proceeded to lament lifestyle choices that lead everyone to cancer and searching for an audience scapegoat, let his eyes land on the young blonde student on the inside of the third row.

He left the stage, walked to where I was seated and proceeded to critique everything about my health from my nail beds, to the fold of flesh on my abdomen, to my thighs, my tongue and the circles under my eyes until he had rendered me a walking cesspool of disease without my consent.

Now, I would not hold myself up as exemplary, but I ran 4 years of varsity cross country, eat my vegetables and try and grab a good night of sleep here and there so I have been doing a lot of thinking of why he chose me. There were plenty of gentlemen my age and health level in the audience, fitting the description I am sure he was looking for. Why did he feel that a female fulfilled his agenda more sufficiently than a male audience member?

As he left me to return to the stage, I sat there with a burning face trying to decide what was the best reaction to something like this: was leaving the lecture a weaker decision than staying in my seat? By staying, was I supporting his actions?

I chose to remain in my seat, burning with indignation. I have a sister who has struggled with a life threatening eating disorder for the past decade and have watched many friends deal with the same insecurities, so WHY is it considered admissible for a male doctor to publicly pick apart a young female in a crowded room in front of complete strangers in the name of science? In a presentation where a simple power point example would have been sufficient, I was left wondering how some of my feminist heroes would have responded (including my mother, who I am sure would have given this doctor the finger shaking of his life.)

I step off my soapbox for the moment to ask you, Reader, how would you have reacted?

community · faster feminism · popular culture

Sassy and Imagined Communities: One Version of How I Became a Feminist

This week I read a piece written for The Nation by Jessica Valenti, and it sent me on a trip down memory lane. It wasn’t the article itself, so much as who wrote it. I encountered Jessica Valenti and when I was at a particularly lonely stage of my PhD. That said, the article itself got me thinking about my evolution as a feminist as well. Entitled “Feminists for the Win,” it details some of the ways in which feminists and feminist agendas are making progress in the United States. It ends with a call to action, and reminds readers that while some advances have been made this year, much feminist activism has necessarily been defensive. While every good basketball player knows that sometimes a good offence requires good defence, Valenti underscores the importance of continually, relentlessly moving forward in the fight for rights for women. When I finished reading the article I found myself thinking about how I came to claim a feminist identity, and whether or not it had anything to do with my current position in the academy. For, while Valenti doesn’t say as much in her article, there are many many other writers who acknowledge that despite its promise of academic freedom, the academy is not an equal opportunity space.*

In part, I became a feminist through reading. I come from a family of voracious readers. My dad keeps a list of all the books he’s read each year, and last year the list numbered over one hundred. My mother laments that I don’t remember how much she read to me as a child. We were not a family that watched television during meals, but sometimes we have been known to all have our books out at the table. Indeed, I recall my mother signing my up for synchronized swimming lessons in an attempt to get me out of the reading chair and into socializing with other children…when I was eight.

I can’t claim classical literature as an influence on my feminist development, not really. Rather, I owe my nascent feminist to a teen magazine. When I was in high school I started reading Sassy. Now long-defunct, Sassy was, for me, an outlet to another world. I was living in small-town North Carolina where I felt out of place, alone, and lonely. While I am sure I wasn’t the only one in my high school feeling like an outsider, I sure felt like I was an island. Sassy was brash, witty, and not afraid to swear! In its DIY-ish pages I learned about the Riot Grrrl movement, about why politics should matter to me, and I learned how to make my own clothes. In reading the infamous “It Happened to Me” column, I learned that I wasn’t alone, and that troubling, terrible, and sometimes hilarious things happened to other people. Along the way I also learned about feminism.

When Sassy went the way of YM and other body-image-obsessed magazines I stopped reading them altogether … until I discovered Bust and Bitch. Around this time I was in university, I was making friends with other feminists, activists, and generally politicized folks. I felt less lonely, and I was more connected to on going issues in the world. I never felt as though I knew enough, or had all of the answers, but I was developing a vocabulary and a community through which to continue thinking out loud. Granted, that community was by this time largely an embodied one: we saw one another, were in classes together, and lived in the same town. There was no Facebook yet, and while forums and listserves were active, they didn’t happen to be a part of my everyday life. So, while my lived experiences and my growing communities of brilliant, politicized people have ultimately been the most informative of my feminist identity, initially it all started with an imagined community of magazine readers.

Is this still the case? For all the phenomenal community-building that digital space can do, I wonder, have wildly popular interfaces like Facebook flattened out some of the radical possibilities of imagined communities? Certainly, there are countless feminist and feminist-inflected groups out there on the interwebs. I think of CWILA, of Lemon Hound, of VIDA to name a very few. But I also think about the site I find myself on most regularly durning the day… I go to Facebook for connection, for distraction, for a sense of imagined — and immediate — community. Last week though, a friend of my posted an article about Facebook banning a feminist activist for calling out misogyny on her page. And then I read this article.

What about you, readers? How did you come come to claim feminism as part of your identity? And where do you forge your communities?

*See for just one Canadian example Sherene Razack, Sunera Thobani, and Malinda Smith’s co-edited States of Race: Critical Race Feminism for the Twenty-First Century.